June 21, 2020

Cuba prepares to begin post-epidemic recovery

Leticia Martínez Hernández

Cuba is preparing to enter the first stage of recovery, with a view toward maintaining control of the COVID-19 epidemic within the country, achieved as a result of “the work of all institutions and our people’s participation as an active element in the battle,” noted President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, presiding an extraordinary session of the Council of Ministers, June 10, led by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, where the plan of measures to be implemented in the three phases of the first stage of the country's recovery was presented.

As the President reported, this meeting of the highest body of the Cuban government was preceded by a discussion in Political Bureau of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee, chaired by its first secretary, Army General Raul Castro Ruz, which "approved the work strategy that we must implement.”

Díaz-Canel recalled, "The strategy to confront this period of the pandemic has been prepared, consisting of two stages. The first of these is, precisely, the post-COVID-19 recovery, which implies returning to the greatest possible normality.”

Over the next few days, he added, "Each one of the measures and actions will need to be ready to be implemented when we take this step.”

The President referred to indicators showing that the epidemic in Cuba is being controlled, among these, he noted, that we are back to the point when there are less hospital admissions than discharges in the public health system, with fewer active transmission events and confirmed cases also decreasing.

Almost all municipalities and provinces have reported no new cases for an entire month, and are, therefore, in a position to return to normality, he added.

“In addition, medical treatment protocols have been improved based on the opinions of experts, international experience, and the contribution of the Cuban biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. This has put us in a position to control the disease, and, in the last 11 days, we have not had to regret any deaths from COVID-19 and there have been few patients who have developed serious or critical conditions”.

This is giving us stability, Díaz-Canel stated, and confirms once again that the country’s main accomplishment is that we never reached the situation that other nations around the world faced, when their health systems essentially collapsed.

"We have worked hard to save lives and the data shows that we are close to recovery," he said.

During his remarks, the President also commented that, as the country advances in the recovery, "In addition to returning to normal, we will work to prevent this disease from becoming endemic, which is possible.”

He clarified that COVID-19 will continue to be present in the country and that, at a certain point, a number of cases may be detected. Maintaining control of the epidemic means that our health system can be prepared for any eventuality that may occur in the future, Diaz-Canel stated.

In Cuba, he said, there is experience in these matters. The impact of infectious diseases within the country has been reduced considerably in recent decades. The health system has eliminated 14 of those illnesses and significantly minimised nine others.

The President emphasised, "The scaling back of measures has been well thought out and indicators established by health experts, to allow us to evaluate the behavior of the disease and incidence rates."

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz presented the measures included in the plan to Council of Ministers members, conceived in three phases of a first stage, precisely to "return to normal life in the country, in a gradual and asymmetric manner; to avoid a resurgence and develop capacity to confront one; while reducing vulnerability to long term effects of the disease."

The measures designed cover several areas, including health, tourism, labor and tax issues, foreign and domestic trade, transport, education, sport and culture. In addition, appropriate summer activities are being planned.

Marrero Cruz clarified, "There will be no abrupt opening during the first phase, although several activities have already been initiated. Gradually, services will be expanded and made more flexible at each stage.”

The implementation of all decisions as part of the plan is conditioned by health protocols that allow the epidemic to be kept under control. Among these measures, he mentioned guaranteeing physical distancing and the mandatory use of facemasks during all activities during the first phase. As of the second phase, masks will only be required in public places where people have congregated.

Individuals with respiratory symptoms will not be allowed to not enter their workplaces at any time; those exposed to infection working in hazardous areas will be provided all necessary protective wear; and hands, as well as surfaces, will be regularly disinfected.

He explained that, with the resumption of international tourism, each visitor will be administered a PCR test for the virus and their temperature will be taken. Teams of specialists will maintain clinical-epidemiological surveillance in the hotels.

Regarding this important sector for the economy, the Prime Minister explained that, during the first phase, only domestic tourism will be opened. In the second phase, international tourism will begin gradually and according to demand, only in the northern and southern keys of the Cuban archipelago.

In these facilities, he said, occupancy will be limited along with capacity in gastronomic and recreational facilities. Car rental and excursions, at first, will be limited to travel on the keys alone.

At the same time, Popular Camping will open for the summer, with a preventative protocol of its own to protect the health of vacationers.

In terms of labour issues, the plan stipulates that individuals who cannot perform their duties at the work site, by order of health authorities, or admitted to an isolation center or hospital, will receive 100 per cent of their salaries. In addition, unpaid leave for mothers with small children, and personalised attention from social workers for at-risk persons, will be maintained.

Measures in the approved plan provide for the gradual resumption of funerary services, as well the opening of offices to pay electricity and gas bills, in the second phase.

Similarly, legal services, including the formalisation of marriage, are restored. Beginning in the first phase, criminal proceedings will resume, depending on their urgency, nature and social impact.

In matters of foreign trade, the authority to import in certain categories will be more flexible and the reactivation of exports and foreign investment is encouraged, beginning immediately once the initial phase of the post-COVID-19 recovery is declared.

An important aspect of the strategy is that of domestic commerce, with the plan stipulating that controlled sales of toiletries and cleaning supplies in neighborhood outlets, and regulation of purchases of high-demand products in retail stores, will continue.

Regarding transportation, the Prime Minister noted that, in the first phase, restrictions on entry and exit from the country remain in place. Meanwhile, urban, inter-municipal and rural services, both public and private, are to be restored with limitations. Transport on regular routes between provinces will be restored in the second phase.

The current school year will reopen in September for its completion and in November the new school term will begin. Meanwhile, in Higher Education, classes and entrance exams will continue to be postponed during the first two phases.

As for sports, international events remain suspended, although preparation for these events will resume. In the second phase of the initial recovery period, the 60th National Baseball Series will begin, with necessary physical distancing measures to avoid contagion.

In the cultural sector, museums will begin to open and the public performance of artistic services will begin, based on the demand from restaurants and tourism, but only within facilities. For the second phase community cultural centers, theatres and cinemas will begin to operate, in accordance with health requirements that have been defined.

Minister Marrero reported that the upcoming summer season was not overlooked in the plan, with swimming pools to be opened at 30 percent of their capacity and a hygiene protocol to be followed strictly. Access to beaches will be under the control of local governments and Ministry of the Interior forces, in order to guarantee compliance with measures and maintain discipline.

During the summer period, activities that involve crowds and large concentrations of persons, including carnivals and other popular festivities, will not be scheduled.

In conclusion, the Prime Minister stressed that the plan guarantees "gradual progress toward normality, without undue haste, so that in the event of any situation that may arise, timely action can be taken.”

The transition from one phase to the next, he emphasised, will depend on health indicators and the specific situation, at the time, in each area of activity.

(Courtesy: Granma, June 11, 2020)